The European Fine Arts Festival – TEFAF

TEFAF: the world’s most glamorous art fair! Held in Maastricht every March, The European Fine Art Fair welcomes the world’s most demanding and sophisticated art collectors for a no-expense-spared celebration of culture…and I was there!

Determination always pays off.

I’m ashamed to say that the TEFAF event in Maastricht didn’t fully grasp my attention until I read that Kanye West was in Maastricht for the event. KANYE WEST IN MAASTRICHT?! I couldn’t believe my favorite rap artist traveled all the way to Maastricht to see me!

Soon I discovered he was just one among the many big names and wealthy art enthusiast to poor into Maastricht for the most-respected and comprehensive fine arts festival in the world. Entry tickets were pricey, and the town became alive with extremely nice vehicles and silver haired art patrons.

My curiousity about the event became overwhelming and I worked my email contacts to try and find a way to get a ticket to the event. International student networks, the Fine Arts Department at MU and even the Exchange Student Blog yielded no ticket for me. Upset that the event was nearing a closure and I still didn’t get even near to a piece of art, I devised a plan to sneak in. Operation TEFAF was to commence at 10am the following morning. The operation was aborted before any action due to a series of bizarre but very lucky events.

Some friends and I were enjoying a night out at Take Five, a favorite jazz bar of mine. An older man at the bar asked us about the town, and we all got to chatting about Maastricht. After about five minutes of banter about Maastricht and majors, he offered up why he was in town: TEFAF.

He is an art enthusiast and also a currency broker. Basically, his job is to manage large exchanges of currency between the buyers of art and vendors. He informed us that the previous day he had managed the exchange for a purchase of a 2.2 million euro map. All my other friends seemed bored by these stories and were slowly starting to turn their backs. I instead asked a few more questions then dropped the one question that I was eager to ask:

How can I get a ticket to TEFAF?

Be it the ambition of a young student trying to get a ticket, or just a wealthy person sharing a good experience with a new acquaintance, he asked for my number and said that he would call at 10:30am the following morning with instructions about a ticket.

Though late the next morning, he followed up on his promise and called to let me know that a ticket was waiting for me at the front desk.


Dressed in my nicest clothes I hopped on my bike and rushed to the other side of the river – SO EXCITED! I soon realized that riding a bicycle into TEFAF was absolutely not acceptable, so I hired a taxi for a few blocks distance and rode up to the legitimately red carpet walkway – feeling fabulous.

My ticket was in a red envelope with my name written in calligraphy. I could not believe my luck! The walls were lined with fresh flowers and live trees provided roadblocks for the beautifully dressed art patrons strolling through the vendor stands. I was actually inhaling class with every breathe I took, and I went into a “look and mimic” way of survival as I tried to flow into the sea of luxury around me.

I called the kind man who had organized my ticket and we briefly agreed to get lunch at 2 since he had to meet with clients and mingle all day. This left me with hours open to stroll around and admire. The floor plan was organized by section, and I decided to start my day in the antiques section.

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Each vendor created a room that tailored to their specific store personality, so each passing shop provided an entirely different experience than the previous. It was like traveling through hundreds of little museums, but with the bizarre knowledge that people around me were shopping. Many of the vendors created settings that resembled a home – Picasso paintings were hung above dining tables and Rodin statues rested on dresser tables.

At the Bowman Sculpture vendor stand I was able to touch real Rodin statues. This blew my mind that my fingertip was resting on one of my favorite artist’s actual work of art. It was even more mind-blowing to know that the patrons around me owned magnificent art like the sculpture my finger was resting on. Filled with the luxury and class around me, I braved a look at the price tag, imagining myself one day owning the tiny Rodin treasure. For 850,000 euros, and no taller than a gallon of milk, I slowly walked away from the unattainable and shockingly expensive statue.

Consistently, one of my favorite items to look at was the jewelry. There tended to be a sense of comradarie between all us females when we entered the jewlery store. For the women who were trailed into the jewelry stands with their husbands, the diamonds behind the glass were attainable and exciting. For others, like me, it was a magical sense of imagination that allowed us to lust over the jewelry together. Jewelry, like this necklace:

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For a brief moment during my window admirations, I became part of the shopping experience. An older woman was alone and shopping for a pair of earrings. The man behind the counter was trying his hardest to make the sale, but was starting to miss the target. He spent the entire time talking up the earrings – the quality of the diamonds, the shape of the cut, the way they dangled. I was watching the older woman watching the diamonds, and realized how little his words were impacting her. As a nearby stranger, I could not help but cut off the salesman and speak directly to this glamourous woman. All I said was, “those would look beautiful on you.” She smiled at me, and I walked away mortified that I had spoken.

At a distance, I watched her purchase the 7,700 euro earrings.

That’s the deal with sales. Often, salespeople get so caught up with the grandeur of the product they are selling rather than focusing on the implications and what it means for the customer. To spend that much money on a pair of earrings is simply narcissistic, and in the case of this sale there needed to be a focus on the customer, not just a focus on the earrings themselves.

I learned about art during TEFAF, but even more so, I learned about business. From observing the earring sale, to watching the wealthy interact, to even studying how older and dignified women behaved, I walked out of TEFAF with a new set of knowledge about how to conduct business in a very “high class” setting. I enjoyed my time as an outsider looking in at TEFAF and look forward to the next time I’m able to explore the world of TEFAF and luxury.

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A big thanks for the ticket, and to all people who take the time and effort to gift a young university student the experience of a lifetime.


This article by Giovanna Bertazzoni from The Telegraph best sums up the essence of TEFAF. You can find the original source here.

Exploring the extensive, varied range of art on show at TEFAF Photo: L. Bodewes

By Giovanna Bertazzoni

11:49AM GMT 22 Mar 2013

Every year, in March, there is an appointment that the global art community feels compelled to honour with punctual regularity: TEFAF, or The European Fine Art Fair, in Maastricht. This year, the fair runs until 24 March, having opened on the 14 March.

 Known in jargon as ‘the Maastricht Art Fair’, it is indeed the most glamorous, lavishly presented and visually attractive of all international art fairs. It is not all appearance, though: there is a lot of substance, because TEFAF is perceived – accurately – as the most serious and distinguished ‘rendez-vous’ for the most demanding and sophisticated art collectors in the world. Established in 1987 by a group of entrepreneurial and pioneering Old Master dealers, it celebrated its silver jubilee in 2012. Tradition and prestige have a pivotal role at this fair: every gallery allowed to exhibit has a celebrated pedigree, and every work of art exposed has been carefully vetted by an army of independent scholars, curators and specialists, called to Maastricht days before the opening.

Every year, the magic is repeated: anonymous industrial pavilions are transformed in a matter of a week into a wonderful world of luxury and sublime juxtapositions. Flower compositions – the most elaborate, rich and inventive I have ever seen- grace every corner of the fair: the entrance is always decorated with an exuberant ensemble of fresh roses, covering entire walls, creating splendid abstract patterns. Every season, the ever new, extravagant welcoming of this rose-covered corridor amuses me and amazes me in equal measure. As I walk through this wall of fresh flowers, I am immediately reminded of the uniqueness of this fair. Fleshy tulips of every colour of the rainbow leap out of huge silver vases (we are in the Netherlands in March, after all!), and punctuate the cosy lounges between the stands.

Image: Loraine Bodewes

What is unique to ‘Maastricht’ is the explosive cohabitation of galleries dedicated to Asian Art, Old Master Paintings and Old Master Drawings, with establishments devoted to Contemporary Art, or exquisite Cabinets de Curiosités offering Renaissance Sculpture or Boulle Furniture. An entire section of the fair is consecrated to jewellery, and one of the biggest sections is the Impressionist and Modern area, with galleries representing all of the most important players in my segment of the market. There’s much to explore and this is certainly the only fair in the world, where one can admire a 40-inch Gandharan bodhisattva on a throne (at Asian art gallery Marcel Nies) side by side with a sinuous Henry Moore bronze (at Robert Landau).

The setting of every booth is carefully curated and pushes boundaries for sensual aesthetic stimulations: a whole 18th Century extravaganza is recreated in one stand, whereas another will be a manifesto of pared-down bohemian-chic, with Cycladic sculpture simply shown on textured, rough wooden shelves.

Image: Bastiaan van Musscher

The opening night, always on a Thursday (this year it was on 14 March), is famous for its sumptuous and generous celebration of the senses. Champagne flows, oysters are offered, while the most exacting collectors in the globe parade down the central aisles, stopping often to chat to the dealers, leading them into the treasure-troves, the most discreet rooms in the stands, to which only the most seasoned buyers are admitted.

But an atmosphere of more matter-of-fact business alertness takes over from the second day of the fair: the glamour remains, and hovers over everything, whilst the elegant, witty conversations of the opening give way to animated business discussions, leading to major transactions.





Image: Loraine Bodewes

The most intense days for business are the first Friday and the closing weekend. During the first weekend, and the whole week, the fair becomes the playground for art lovers, students, and tourists, joining in from everywhere in Europe, especially the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. A ticket, available to the general public and which can be purchased online as well as at the fair, allows a full day in what is, after all, a splendid temporary museum, a magical, almost surreal gathering of works of art from all periods and all corners of the world.

Personally, I prefer visiting the day after the opening, and I throw myself into it with gusto, for hours, barely stopping to eat. After a full day of trotting around with fellow specialists and clients, I leave feeling halfway between stunned and delighted, exhausted and energised, full of ideas, questions and new contacts. A good place to be, after a day of work.


Posted on by Reagan J Payne in Part I, Uncategorized

4 Responses to The European Fine Arts Festival – TEFAF

  1. Mom

    What a marvelous adventure. I was reminded of your first trip to the Rodin museum in France. You were so enthralled with the statue garden. I could only imagine the thrill you had holding one!

  2. Nancy Raney

    what a wonderful experience, Reagan! thanks for describing it so beautifully. I’m so proud of you for working diligently to make the most of all your opportunities! enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

  3. Kelly Guinaugh

    That is awesome, Reagan! I’m so impressed with all your take always too. They will serve you well. I think someone owes you a commission!! Love your tenacity.

  4. grandmother

    You are so exceptional Reagan! And you were the perfect person to be given a ticket to TEFAF!!! Your understanding and motivations of people is a delight . What a great example of taking advantage to the fullest of a rare opportunity! You are a happy inspiration for us all. Thanks for sharing!

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